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We all know that Vermont State Parks are awesome destinations for adventure-loving families, but some parks seem to possess that perfect balance between wilderness and creature comforts, rowdy fun and hands-on-learning, adventure and relaxation. Little River State Park in Waterbury, Vermont, is just such a place. A place where parents and kids can choose from any number of adventures and never get bored.
Planning your Vermont vacation? If your idea of a good time is paddling, hiking, and back-road adventuring, check out our Vermont Vacation Guide for Outdoor Lovers, where you’ll find all kinds of tips, road trip ideas, our favorite campgrounds, hiking trails, and photography hot spots.
So what makes Little River State Park so special? Simple — you’ve got a big shining lake tucked into the mountains and surrounded by lovely New England villages. You’ve got an area rich in history and natural diversity, and a beautiful park that caters to outdoor-loving families. It’s the ultimate recipe for success. Here’s why we think Little River State Park is the best state park in Vermont for families with kids.
The interpretive programs at Little River State Park are AMAZING
Seriously, the best in the whole state! Brian, the park interpreter, offers all kinds of opportunities to get in touch with the natural and historical gems of Little River State Park. Programs are offered just about every day, but on the weekends, you can follow Brian around from morning till night learning about the birds, mushrooms, plants, fish, and even ghosts that live in the park.
The interpretive programs are all family-friendly and all incredible. In fact, many of the participants I met during the programs had traveled from other parts of the state just to participate. Brian tailors each program to the participants who show up, ensuring that it’s fun and engaging for everyone. They’re not to be missed!
There’s a lot of history at Little River State Park
The area that is now Little River State Park was once a thriving community of loggers and farmers, trying to eke a living off the rocky land in the early 1800s. That all came to an end when two monumental floods hit the area in 1927 and 1934, causing residents to wait out the storms on their rooftops.
To prevent future flooding of the Winooski River, The Waterbury Reservoir was constructed by the CCC and the US Army Corps of Engineers, beginning in 1935. All but one of the homes in this area were abandoned and destroyed. Today, you can still visit the last remaining house on the Little River History Hike. You’ll also find remains of stone walls, cellar holes, bridges, roads, and cemeteries. Much is known about the families that used to inhabit the area, and the history hike helps tell their fascinating story.
There are Lots of Opportunities to Get Out on the Water
Whether you enjoy boating, paddling, fishing, swimming, or floating the day away with a cold drink in hand, Little River State Park is a gem for all kinds of water activities.
Swimming. The water is cool and clear, and the swimming areas provide a good mix of sun and shade. Campers enjoy two beaches within the park. The “A” beach is gravelly and open, with spectacular mountain views, and the “B” beach is grassy, leading to a sandy-bottomed swimming area at the mouth of the Stevenson Brook. The best part? The swimming areas are within easy walking or biking distance of every single campsite. Visitors who aren’t camping at Little River State Park should swim at Waterbury Reservoir State Park.
Canoeing and Kayaking. The Waterbury Reservoir covers roughly 850 acres, with a diverse shoreline that is perfect for paddlers. There are two secrets to a perfect canoe, kayak, or SUP adventure. The first is to get out early while the water is calm and the birds are singing. The second is to head to the northern end of the lake, where motorboats aren’t permitted.
Fishing. We saw lots of locals fishing the waters and inlets of the reservoir near Little River State Park. According to many of the anglers we talked to, the best fishing is either near the dam or at the northern end of the lake. One fellow we spoke to was catching quite a few trout in Stevenson Brooke right from his kayak. Look for perch, bullhead, rainbow and brown trout, and smallmouth bass.
Super Sunrises. Whether you’re sipping coffee on the beach or paddling along a quiet shoreline, early mornings are something special at Little River State Park. The birds will serenade you and the sun will greet you with a spectacular show as it comes up over the mountains. It’s something everyone should witness at least once!
Camping is Relaxing and Fun at Little River State Park
The campground at Little River State Park is busy during the summer, but the sites are wooded and private, so you’ll still have plenty of privacy if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s a pretty big campground, with 81 tent/RV sites, 20 lean-tos, and five cabins.
The restrooms are modern and clean and have flush toilets and hot and cold running water. Three of the four restrooms have coin-operated hot showers. A sanitary dump station is available, but there are no hookups. Within the campground, there are swimming beaches, play areas, a boat launch, ball fields, and boat rentals for campers (for day use boat rentals and swimming, see Waterbury Center State Park).
There are also 27 remote campsites along the shores of the Waterbury Reservoir. There is no charge for these sites and they cannot be reserved. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis and they are only accessible by boat. There are privies at these sites, but there is no potable water. View remote camping map here.
We usually try and score a lean-to with a water view, but if those are booked, our favorite tent site is #53, 78, and 81.
Camping cabins sleep four and have electricity, so there a great choice if you want to camp but not rough it. Once you’ve parked your rig, checked into your cabin, or pitched your tent, the opportunities are wide open. You can hike miles and miles of trails, bike the quiet roads and trails around the campground, fish for your dinner, boat or kayak the reservoir, tour the dam, or just relax in one of Vermont’s most lovely campgrounds.
You Can’t Beat the Location
The Waterbury Reservoir is a sparkling lake in the heart of the northern Green Mountains. You’ll find plenty to do right inside the Little River State Park, but you’re also minutes from Waterbury, Stowe, and Montpelier, where you can check out lots of natural and cultural attractions. Here are a few suggestions for kid-friendly fun near Little River State Park.
- Stowe Mountain Resort – Drive up the toll road to the top of Vermont’s highest mountain and hike from Mt. Mansfield’s nose to the chin and back again. It’s a moderate 2-mile hike round trip – perfect for older children. For a serious thrill ride, try the ZipTour adventure. Ride the gondola to the summit, and zip back down.
- Ben & Jerry’s Factory, Waterbury – Serious ice cream, and serious fun for kids and adults. Be sure to visit the flavor graveyard to pay your respects to the dairily deceased.
- Vermont State House, Montpelier – Visit one of the oldest and best-preserved statehouses in the smallest capital city in Montpelier. Free guided tours are available every day in the summer.
- Ziemke Glass Blowing Studio, Waterbury – Watch Glenn Ziemke create masterpiece after masterpiece from molten glass. This is a mesmerizing experience!
We’ve adventured in lots Vermont State Parks this year, and Little River State Park is our top choice for families. It offers the perfect mix of fun and relaxation and is a great base camp for families exploring the surrounding Green Mountains.
Want more cool ideas for Vermont camping? Check out some of our other Vermont posts or visit our Vermont Vacation Guide:
- Camp on a Farm in Rural Vermont
- Fall camping at Grout Pound in Southern Vermont
- Cabin Camping in Merck Forest, Vermont
What to Pack for Your Vermont Camping Trip to Little River State Park
So, we’re all about minimalist camping, but Little River State Park is one of those campgrounds, where you load up your truck with the kayaks, the bikes, the camp chairs, and the massive cooler. I mean, you don’t have to do it that way, but if you decide to go that route, no one will fault you, and you’ll feel right at home with most of the other campers.
And, in case you have a bit more room, here are some very useful pieces of gear/clothing that we recommend for making Little River State Park your best camping trip ever:
- Bug spray – Mosquitoes and ticks love Little River State Park as much as we do, but if it makes you feel any better, you won’t find a Vermont State Park without biting insects, so suck it up and get some bug spray. For 12-hours of protection from mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks that carry Lyme disease, we recommend Sawyer insect repellent with 20% Picaridin, which smells better than DEET and doesn’t make your skin feel all yucky.
- A wheeled cooler – Because in the morning, you will want to pack up all the food you’ll need for the day and bring to the beach, where you can get busy relaxing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. The RovR 45-quart wheeled cooler as the most rugged wheels we’ve ever seen on a cooler, and it keeps ice frozen for more than a week. We found this size to be adequate for a family of four, but you can go much bigger if you need to.
- A hammock – A portable hammock is awesome for relaxing at your campsite or bringing to the beach. There are plenty of hammock trees at Little River State Park, so don’t forget your favorite book and an icy cold drink.
- Quick-dry towels – Even in the summer, Vermont can be kind of damp, and unless you are blessed with perfect weather, you will be frustrated with beach towels that never dry. Invest in a quick-dry towel for every member of your family, and be sure to get everyone their own color to prevent bickering (or at least some bickering).
With so many opportunities to adventure, chill out, and sleep in the outdoors, Is it any wonder that Little River State Park is one of Vermont’s most beloved treasures?